Alec was awake again by the time they got back to the club. He was in the bat cave with Conner and the woman from the photos.

She got up when they entered. "Brittney, hi. Conner told me you'd be here. It's good to see you. The rest of you are with Afterlife too?"

Chloe nodded and made the introductions. "Emma, right?"

"Emmalie De La Rue," she said. "But Emma works. I wanted to thank you all for being here. Not here, but… for me. For James."

Harper saw the way Emma's jaw tensed and realized she was struggling with tears. Feeling awkward, she stepped toward her, then stopped, not knowing what to say. "Oh. Sure. I mean, it's what we… do."

Sarah stepped past Harper, closer to Emma. "What Harper is trying to say is that we would never turn away a child who needs us. James has our full attention, and we'll do our best to bring him home."

Emma wavered on her feet. "He must be terrified. He's never — he's so small. How long can he survive down there?"

Alec leaned forward at the question. "It really depends."

"On what?" Emma demanded, sounding almost hysterical. "The demon's appetite?"

"Maybe," Alec said. "The first time he feeds, it may not kill the boy. Maybe not even the second. But the third time, that's a risk, and fourth? Whew."

"Alec," Conner said, his voice sharp.

Emma was staring at Alec. "Four times? Why would he?"

"If you need milk, do you kill the cow?" Alec asked.

"Stop it," Conner said, rising.

"Sit down," Alec said without looking at him. It wasn't a request but a command. The others were watching now, too, as he spoke to Emma. "Trentreen can't take indefinitely — eventually, he'll suck your son dry. I want to know how long we have until then."

"How would I know that?" Emma asked, but Harper saw her face was flushed too.

"You're a witch," Alec said. "Self-taught? It doesn't really matter because blood magic is weak in birthright witches too. Taking magic from a birthright kid like yours would be like having broth for supper. Tasty, but not filling. Why bother?"

"Shut up," she said.

Chloe's eyes widened. "Oh my god."

Brittney grabbed her arm to stop her from moving forward. "Don't, Chloe."

"If she—"

"If I… what?" Emma asked, wheeling on her. "Don't you stand there and judge me."

Harper looked at Conner and saw how white his face had gone. "Maybe we should—"

Conner didn't seem to hear her. His eyes were fixed on Emma. "Six years old. I never did the math."

"He was premature," Emma said. "Three months in the NICU."

"Must have been terrifying. Were you concerned he'd show demonic traits as an infant?" Conner asked, his voice tight with restrained anger. "How could you do that? How could you keep him from me?"

Sarah looked very uncomfortable with the conversation, and Chloe whispered something to Brittney.

"You were gone," Emma snapped. "You don't get to claim the moral high ground when you ran off."


"You didn't want to be there," Emma continued. "You think I didn't notice? I served my purpose, entertained you for a while, then you left."

Conner shimmered into his demonic form, the tattoos pulsing, and his aura darkened. "I left you! You, not him! You don't know what I would have done, because you never told me. I left, but you could have picked up the phone. Sent a text, an email, something!"

"Conner, calm down," Harper said, alarmed by the energy she saw coming from him. She moved toward him, but Alec rose too.

He moved fast, blocking her path. "Don't."

"But—" Harper stopped at Alec's expression. She was worried still, and Sarah must have felt the same because she shifted into her panther form, eyes fixed on the incubus.

"I couldn't," Emma said. "If I had… you might have come back. I wasn't heartbroken, Conner, I was relieved you were gone."

Conner went still. It was only for five seconds, but each was painfully silent. Then he moved so quickly that his tattoos blurred. Alec and Sarah both moved to Emma, shielding her, but there was no need. It was the exit he wanted.

"You knew?" Chloe asked Brittney.

She nodded.

Chloe stepped back from her, then to the door. The look she gave Alec was pure disgust. "He's your friend."

Then she was gone too. Harper heard her call Conner's name before the door slammed shut.

Emma sank into a chair, all anger gone as she covered her face.

Brittney went to her. "He'll come around."

"I didn't want him to find out this way," Emma said. "Or at all. He was never supposed to know. I get it; I know how that sounds to you all, but…"

"You were protecting your child," Sarah said, after becoming human again.

Harper asked, "Did you know what he was?"

"I did," Emma said. "But it wasn't the demon that worried me. Conner would never have been a danger to James, not like that."

"There are other ways of hurting children," Sarah said, looking away. "You chose a life for your son where that was never an option. Never feel ashamed for keeping him safe."

"Little good it did," Emma said.

"You should have been honest from the start," Alec said. "Conner was born an incubus, and your son was too. You were never protecting him, and now it might be too late."

Emma started to speak, but Brittney beat her to it. "Shut up, Alec."

"Excuse me?"

"I said, shut up," Brittney repeated. "Or get out, your choice."

Alec glared at her.

Harper put herself between them. "Why don't you find Conner and Chloe? Make sure they're not making a scene in the club?"

His look was reproachful, but he took her advice and left.

"Don't mind him," Sarah said. "Alec—"

"—is an ass?" Brittney suggested.

Emma shook her head. "No, he's right. James is down there with demons because I couldn't protect him. Maybe Conner could have. If he dies…"

"He won't," Sarah said. She shook her head. "No. We're going to find him, Emma."

"Promise me," Emma said.

Harper shot a look at Sarah. She knew the woman well enough to know she never would. Not when things were so uncertain.

"I promise," Sarah said.

Emma nodded. Brittney found some paper towels, dampened one, and brought it to her.

"Thanks," she said, wiping her face. "Should I come with? To the unders? I'm not without some magic, though I haven't practiced in years."

"No," Brittney said right away. "I need your help here."

"With what?"

Brittney didn't look at Sarah or Harper, but her eyes flicked to the opposite wall. "Research. The unders are a maze, but some records exist. Probably won't need them, but some reference points would be a good just-in-case."

Harper gave her a speculative look, but Brittney again didn't look at her. She was lying.

There was no reason to call her out, though. Instead, she asked, "Do you have your pistol?"

Brittney shook her head. "It's at home. But Emma and I will go there."

Sarah frowned. "Might be best to stay here."

"Where all the demons know about?" Brittney shook her head. "If they come after Emma, I want her as far away as possible. None would check my house. In fact, we'll go now. You okay with that, Emma?"

"Yes." Emma stood, found her purse, and looked at Sarah. "Find him, you promised."

Sarah nodded.

After they'd left, Harper said, "Thought you didn't believe in lying. We might not find him."

"We will," Sarah said, her voice firm. "Come on, let's find the others. We need to go."

Harper thought of how Conner had left but didn't argue as they went into the club. The music was loud, and the flashing lights made it hard to see through the crowd.

Sarah knew just where to look, though, nodding at the tables. Conner sat at one, across from Chloe. Alec stood next to him, hand on his shoulder.

"Oh good, you're here," Chloe said as they approached. She shot a look at Conner, then bounced to her feet. "I was about to come to get you both. Alec thinks we should take guns down there with us, so we need to get moving."

"I'm a terrible shot," Harper said. "I went to the range a few times with Brittney and her dad, but I could never hit the smaller targets."

"Great," Conner muttered, getting to his feet. He went toward the club exit, taking his keys out as he did.

As they followed, Alec spoke to Harper. "There are firearm classes you should take. I'll get you the information."

"Is that really necessary?" Harper asked. "I mean, all of you seem capable without guns, and I'll be working on learning more too."

"You're a gypsy, not a demon," Alec said. "Even when you get a more firm grip on what you can do, you can't compete with raw strength. So yes, it's necessary, for all the times when your Sight and other skills aren't the right calls."

Out in the VIP parking spots, Conner beeped his keys, and his car unlocked.

"I'll ride with you," Chloe said and went to get in before he could argue.

"We'll take my car," Alec said. He and Sarah took the front, and Harper the back. As he drove, Sarah asked him more questions about the zurochs. Harper tried to pay attention, but most of the information he shared was only relevant to animals — or those who could shift into them.

They stopped at a pawnshop. Conner pulled in after them, and they waited while he went inside. He came out ten minutes later with a paper sack that he passed to Sarah after taking two pistols from it.

Sarah checked the guns he'd left while Alec drove again.

"You don't have your own guns?" Harper asked as Sarah handed her one.

"Yes and no," Sarah said. "Do you know how to use it? "

Harper gave the weapon a once over. "Pretty sure. You can remind me when we stop, though."

Sarah nodded.

Alec looked in the mirror and caught her eye. "These are last resort. Some of the connecting tunnels are steel and narrow. Ricochets can be just as deadly as whatever you're aiming at."

"Got it," Harper said. "So that pawnshop…"

"… is a pawnshop," Sarah said. "We have a deal with the owner, that's all. When we need guns, we get them there. Bring them back after for him to sell. Less likely for them to ever be tied to us that way."

"Is that a problem?" Harper asked. "I mean, the police?"

"It hasn't been," Sarah said. "That's because we take the extra steps, though."

Harper nodded.

Alec pulled into the parking lot of an older, smaller casino.

"Is this place for demons too?" Harper asked, surprised. She didn't gamble much but knew it as a locals' casino.

"No," he said. "Only the San Francisco is demonic. But there are plenty of buildings with lead-ins to the unders, and this is one of the easier ones."

They got out and waited for Chloe and Conner. Sarah and Harper stood near the car and went over the basics of the gun she had.

Conner and Chloe got there about five minutes later. Chloe had a pack slung over a shoulder, and Conner looked calmer.

"You shot through that yellow," he said to Alec.

Alec shrugged. "I had time."

"I didn't."

"Point," Alec said, smiling.

"I'm still up," Conner said. "Seven yellows to your five. I haven't used this entrance. Is it in their offices?"

Alec shook his head. "No. Around back."

The five of them headed that way.

"The casino had a fire about thirty years ago," Alec told them. "They saved the lobby; that was it. Rebuilt from that, but the new design left the entrance to the unders exposed. We have to go behind."

Chloe darted ahead, her footsteps making no sound on the pavement. She was back in a flash. "Nobody's up there, but Alec, it looks like they've condemned that area. It's blocked off."

"That's why nobody uses it," Alec said. "They're afraid getting caught here would draw attention to the lead-in. But nobody cares anymore. Those signs have been there since the fire. The city cares about the strip, not hole-in-the-walls."

"Not all the signs are old," she said.

Alec shrugged. When they got to the back of the lot, he walked up to the metal fence. "Huh. This was just warning ropes before. Chloe, can you open the lock?"

Chloe grinned. "I love when you need me. How about a please?"

He shot her a flat, unamused look that only made her laugh. Chloe took a small pouch from her pack. It looked like the one Harper kept her nail accessories in. The tools inside were thin and metal. She crouched down, examining them. Harper watched, fascinated, as Chloe deliberated on the right tool.

While she worked to pick the lock, Harper heard Alec complaining.

"I liked this entrance. Damn it. It's been thirty years; why bother now?"

"Hansen's next pet project," Conner said. "Thinks cleaning up the slums will get her elected."

Alec grunted, annoyed.

"You'll find another place you like to enter from," Sarah said, sounding sympathetic.

"Hurry up, Chloe," Alec called out.

"Say please," Chloe said, but she was too focused to do more than mutter it. She leaned closer to the lock, frowning as she twisted and pushed the metal tool in a different direction.

Then it clicked open. "That was a hard one! We're in, guys. And gals. Can I keep it, Alec? I need to practice on this type. That took way too long."

He nodded.

Chloe stuck it in the pack, looking pleased.

They all followed Alec in, past the charred door frame and half-fallen left wall.

Harper could smell rotting wood, and some structural beams were nicked and splintered, but it seemed more stable than the house she and Brittney had sneaked into when in middle school.

"Here," Alec said, stopping. If he hadn't, she might have missed the door.

It was wooden too, but from darker-colored planks than the rest of the floor. There'd been a handle once, she saw, but now only screw holes and a grooved impression.

He kneeled, using his fingertips to grip the edges, then lifted the door.

The rusted screech from the hinges made them all grimace. There was a gap before the first step, then several that descended into the dark.

"Follow me," Alec said, dropping onto the first one. "Sarah, I want you up with me. Try to follow the freshest scent, and once we're further in, you can refine it toward the boy. You got his mom's smell?"

"And Conner's," Sarah said. She jumped down and transformed, her eyes glowing in the shadows.

Conner stepped forward, but Alec shook his head. "Chloe and Harper behind us. I want you at the back in case something comes from behind."

He gave Alec an impatient look. "You take the tail. I'll lead with Sarah."

"No," Alec said.

Chloe went down, then Harper followed. Conner was last, and when he yanked the door closed after him, the darkness was absolute.


Support "Afterlife"

About the author

Kaitlyn Meyers

Bio: Kaitlyn Meyers lives in the western United States near Lake Tahoe, CA. You can find her on the shores of the lake anytime of the year.

Log in to comment
Log In